LIHUE – School children from Kalaheo Elementary School and Island School helped to release 10 fledgling ‘A‘o (Newell’s Shearwaters) over the last two days during the annual E Ho‘opomaika‘i ‘ia na Manu ‘A‘o (A Cultural Release of the Native Newell’s Shearwater) event at Lydgate Park. The young seabirds had been rescued by members of the public then rehabilitated by SOS. Before they started their journey back out to sea, Kupuna Maureen Fodale offered a pule (Hawaiian prayer).
The event is organized every year by the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project
(KESRP) and the Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) program to celebrate Kaua‘i’s rarest native
seabirds. Project Manager Dr. André Raine said, “The children are always so excited to get close to these special Native Hawaiian birds. They ask lots of questions and it gives us a chance to explain why it’s important to give these downed seabirds a second chance at life. They are a key part of the ecosystem on Kaua‘i but unfortunately they have suffered significant declines in recent decades.”
‘A‘o chicks are attracted to artificial lights at this time of year on the island of Kaua‘i. This
phenomenon is a serious conservation threat for seabirds around the World, with newly fledged seabird chicks coming down to the bright lights of towns. They circle them until they end up exhausted and grounded. If they are not rescued by concerned members of the public, they become easy prey for the large numbers of cats and dogs on the island or are run over by cars. Many are never found and die of dehydration and starvation, so keen-eyed members of the public are vitally important for rescuing the downed birds.
Those that do get rescued are passed over to SOS. The program has been inundated with
birds from locations across the island over the last few days. At SOS, the birds are examined by trained staff, rehabilitated as necessary and then released to continue their lives out at sea. These are long-lived birds and can live for over 35 years if they survive the initial fledging.
As well as attending the release event, staff members Trinity Tippin and Derek Harvey of
KESRP went to the schools to talk to the children about Kaua‘i’s endangered seabirds. The
children learned fun facts about the island’s three endangered seabirds so they could better understand why it is so important to save these native species. After the school visits, children were asked why it was so important to protect Kaua‘i’s endangered seabirds. Children from both schools were quick to answer.
‘I think we should protect the ‘A‘o…”by watching where we step when we go hiking up in the mountains and by keeping your cats inside and your dogs on a leash…..If you see an ‘A‘o on the side of the road or anywhere you go you should pick it up in a warm towel and put it in a box and take the ‘A‘o to a fire department and put it in the boxes.” -Haylee Bisarra, Kalaheo School, age 9
I think we should protect the ‘A‘o…”because they fertilize our land, help fisherman find fish, and they’re cool birds!…..I’m on team ‘A‘o!” -Olivia Allen, Kalaheo School, age 9
‘The ‘A‘o are important because they are endemic and 90% of the world’s population is on Kauai. Also, they poop and it is a plant fertilizer!” -Callum Raine, Kalaheo School, age 9
“The ‘A‘o not only fertilize the island but they also do a lot for our fishermen. I think the a’o are important to keep Kaua’i alive.” -Nai’a Spindt, Island School, age 9
“The‘ A‘o are important to our environment since they fertilize the ground, help boats navigate, and guide fishermen toward the fish. Shearwaters are helping us in many ways even though we don’t ask them. I also love birds.” -Makani, Island School, age 9
Back at the release site, the last birds flew safely out to sea. They will now spend up to five years flying over the open ocean, never coming back to land until it is time to breed. Derek Harvey, a KESRP staff member who organized the event, said. “I have been involved in this event for three years now, and it is one of the highlights of our year. It’s always a thrill seeing these rare seabirds finally heading out to sea and knowing if they hadn’t been rescued they would almost certainly have died. Equally important is passing on that knowledge to our keiki as ultimately they will be the champions for these species in the future.”
KESRP is a joint project between the State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife project and the Pacific Co-operative Studies Unit of the University of Hawai‘i. SOS is a DLNR project housed at the Kaua’i Humane Society and financially supported by the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative.
If you find a bird down or in distress:
Anybody finding a downed ‘A‘o should take the bird to the nearest aid station (found at all fire stations around the island) and leave detailed information on where and when it was found. You can call the SOS hotline at 808-635-5117 for more information or to let SOS know that you have dropped off a bird. SOS Aid stations are checked every morning for seabirds, which are then taken to SOS headquarters in the Kaua’i Humane Society for rehabilitation and release.
DLNR Senior Communications Manager